Mesothelioma

Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a cancer that develops from the mesothelial cells that make up the membrane that lines the lung/chest cavity.

Often caused by the inhalation of asbestos, pleural mesothelioma arises in the chest and may spread to other areas in the body such as the abdomen. The majority of these cancers grow very slowly, often taking 20-40 years to become apparent to the patient. Symptoms are most commonly shortness of breath and chest wall pain.

Diagnosis and treatment can be challenging and often requires specialty cancer surgeons and medical and radiation oncologists to manage the disease. Approximately 3,000 new cases of malignant mesothelioma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, making it a relatively uncommon disease.

UT Southwestern Medical Center is one of the few institutions in the country with a treatment and research center dedicated to mesothelioma – and home to the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in North Texas.

Our specialized chest (thoracic) cancer experts offer an evidence-based, multidisciplinary approach to accurately diagnose, stage, and treat mesothelioma. We have excellent surgical outcomes for mesothelioma, and we are the lead center for a national chemotherapy clinical trial.

Our specialists also have a weekly cancer conference at which every mesothelioma patient is presented in a broad-based, multidisciplinary manner.

Diagnosis

The accurate diagnosis and staging of mesothelioma is key to delivering the most appropriate treatment.

At UT Southwestern, our medical and radiation oncologists, cardiothoracic surgeons, physician assistants, and nurses collaborate to evaluate each patient and develop a personalized plan that guides the team from diagnosis through treatment to supportive aftercare.

If your doctor suspects that you have mesothelioma, he or she will conduct a physical examination and order tests to confirm the diagnosis. Further tests may be needed to help determine the cancer’s stage and precise location.

Imaging techniques used to diagnose mesothelioma might include:

Chest X-ray
X-rays help visualize abnormalities in the pericardium.
Contrast enhanced or multidetector computed tomography (CT) scan
CT technology helps physicians visualize the location and extent of mesothelioma.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
MRI helps physicians identify suspicious areas that could indicate mesothelioma and learn if, and how far, it has spread.
Positron emission tomography (PET)
Cancer cells absorb large amounts of radioactive sugar that are used in this technique, and a special camera creates images of that radioactivity, enabling physicians to identify cancerous mesothelioma cells. Endoscopic ultrasonography. This technology maps sound waves to show physicians if mesothelioma has invaded the heart muscle.

Additional testing also may include a tissue sample (biopsy) of the suspicious area of the mesothelium to determine the presence of cancer.

Treatment

Mesothelioma treatment options depend on the cancer’s precise location and stage, the patient’s overall health, goals, and preferences, and other factors.

Our specialists may consider these therapies for treating mesothelioma:

Minimally invasive interventional surgery
Highly precise surgery to remove cancerous tissue may be used in some cases of mesothelioma. Procedures include pleural decortications – aimed at preserving the lung – and extrapleural pneumonectomy. Learn more about surgery for chest cancers.
Medical treatment (chemotherapy)
Chemotherapy drugs, taken orally or intravenously, may be used to target and kill cancer cells in the pericardium. Chemotherapy also may be used in conjunction with radiation therapy (chemoradiation) to treat mesothelioma.
Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
This sophisticated treatment allows doctors to use multiple radiation beams of varying lengths and intensity. The radiation beams may be moved scores of times during treatment, resulting in a radiation field that is “sculpted” in three dimensions. Rather than creating a uniform field of radiation, the radiation is delivered to precisely conform to the actual shape of the tumor, thus sparing surrounding healthy tissue. Learn more about radiation therapy for chest cancers.

Depending on the cause and extent of their mesothelioma, some patients may be eligible to participate in clinical trials of new treatments for the disease.

Clinical Trials

UT Southwestern conducts clinical trials aimed at improving the care and outcomes of patients with mesothelioma. Your cancer physicians can help you determine if you are eligible to participate in a clinical trial.

In addition to working on clinical trials, our researchers are exploring new approaches to improve current treatments to reach better outcomes. Promising areas currently under investigation include immunotherapy and genomics.

Meet Our Experts

Our multidisciplinary mesothelioma team includes these medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and surgical oncologists:

Learn more about the chest cancer team.

Request an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with a mesothelioma specialist, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.